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Service menu ordering on council websites

simon gray 2023-06-21, 18:37:15
Read this article aloud — 1583 words

A friend this morning directed me to a link to a certain council website, which she was fairly sure had been completely redesigned recently (at the time of writing the Internet Archive WayBack Machine seems to be down, so I can't check). She'd sent it to me because she was aghast at something she saw on it, but what I saw below what she was aghast about was even more terrible to behold...

A service menu on the website home page thus:

Council website service menu
Council Tax
Recycling and waste
Transport and roads
Adult Social Care
Children, young people and families
Sport and activities
Planning and building control
Education and skills
Your Council
Births, deaths and marriages

What is this random order this list of links has been presented in?

If you know me well, you know the extent to which this sort of thing rattles my cage. In order to get myself even more rattled, I went to three other council website with a similar home page service menu User Experience strategy:

More council home page service menus
Council B Council C Council D
Council Tax Cost of Living Cost of living help
> Difficulty paying Bins and recycling Report a problem
> Pay your council tax Council Tax Local elections and Voter ID
Health and Social Care Housing Subscribe to garden waste
> Adult Social Care Planning Make a payment
> Children Social Care School Admissions Rent a council property
> Health and wellbeing Safeguarding Latest on bin collections
Cost of Living Support Parking and roads Warm Spaces
> Warm Spaces Learning and Schools Events
> Community shops Register Office Get financial help
> Household Support Fund Benefits  
Waste and Recycling Care and Health Bins and recycling
> Bin collection dates Early Years and Childcare > Report a missed bin
> Garden Waste Collection Service Environment > Subscribe to garden waste
> HWRC (Rubbish Tips)   > What goes in my bins?
Education and Schools   Housing
> School admissions   > Find a home
> Nurseries and childcare   > Report a repair
> Schools list   > Landlords
Licences   Health and social care
> Taxi licences   > Adults
> Alcohol & Premises Licences   > Children
> Public notices   > Care and support
Benefits   Schools and learning
> Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support   > Term dates and holidays
> Social Security Benefits   > Schools and colleges
Your Council and Meetings   Benefits
> Our City: Our Plan   > Housing benefit
> Elections and Voting   > Benefits advice
> Your Councillors   Business
    > Business rates
    > Property and land for sale
    Council tax
    > Pay your council tax
    > Tell us you've moved house
    Leisure, Parks and events
    > Leisure centres
    > Green Spaces
    > Keep fit
    > Planning applications
    > Planning permission
    > Building Regulations

(Apologies for the misuse of an HTML tables - it seemed the least bad compromise balancing clarity and accessibility for a diverse group of users within the constraints of the WYSIWYG text editor I have)

In this article it's outside the scope of it for me to discuss the choice of links on the four home pages - I started a discussion on that in my first Manifesto post, which now is admittedly rather old and would probably need a refresh of thinking before anybody started to implement the ideas in it.

What has  rattled my cage, and what has been rattling my cage for over 10 years, is the choice of ordering for the links. What on earth is that order?

Of course, that's a rhetorical question (although I'm intrigued at the placement of Council Tax in Council D there), I can make a very educated guess as to what has informed the order of the links. To which my response is:

Users neither know nor care where in your page analytics ranking their service request sits. Change my mind.

Now it's not completely unreasonable that the council webteam knows that certain pages are very popular indeed and thus it makes sense to give those very popular pages some degree of prominence in the list of links. But if you're a user looking to do something nice or not-so-nice at the Register Office in Council C, how are you to know that the Register Office main page or the aggregate of all Register Office services is the 10th most popular area of the site so that you might glance down to the 10th item in the list. Whereas if you're reasonably acquainted with the Western alphabet you'll know the letter R is about two thirds of the way through the alphabet so if you see an alphabetically ordered list and thus first look about two thirds of the way down it to see if it's made it to the popular service list at all.

It's true, I haven't conducted a comprehensive User Research study to support my assertion that most people will find it easier to scan down a list in alphabetical order, but conversely I've never seen a comprehensive User Research study which demonstrates that actually yes, users really will find it easier to find the thing they're looking for in a randomly ordered list.

But as the meme says: change my mind.

#LocalGovWeb #LocalGovDigital #Manifesto

In group Public / Third Sector Digital

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